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Hoge’s Week 1 Film Study: What went wrong in Bears’ secondary

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NBC Sports Chicago

We’re doing this. Nothing is stopping it from happening.

For those of you who are not All-22 film nerds — and I’m assuming that’s almost all of you — there’s been an ongoing crisis on the interwebs because the coaches film disappeared on NFL Game Pass and has not returned.

Do I need to keep things in perspective in my life? Sure. Did that stop me from physically throwing at least two objects Tuesday because I was so frustrated I couldn’t watch the All-22? Of course not.

Still, the show must go on. We’ll just have to use the tools we have at our disposal. At least Bears safety Tashaun Gipson became the second Bears defensive player to speak to the media since the Bears lost 34-14 to the Rams in Los Angeles Sunday night.

No film? No locker room access? No problem.

The Film (sort of)

A ton of attention has rightly been on Rams wide receiver Van Jefferson’s 67-yard touchdown on Los Angeles’ third offensive play from scrimmage — mainly because it could end up being the most embarrassing moment of the season for the Bears.

"It was one of those plays where in my 10-year career I don’t think I’ve been a part of,” Gipson said Tuesday. "If you play that play between me and Eddie (Jackson), 10 times out of 10 one of us would tag him down — too much football IQ between the two of us to let a play like that happen. So obviously it’s just one of those things that will keep you up at night.”

 

But if we can get past the ridiculousness of not touching Jefferson down, we need to give credit to Rams head coach Sean McVay for a great concept that worked. Sometimes the other team simply executes better plays.

Watching this play develop from the press box at Sofi Stadium was pretty special. Jefferson ran an outstanding route and broke back to the middle of the field as soon as Jackson turned his hips towards the wrong sideline.

Shoutout to James Light for sharing the “hiccup” concept from McVay’s Washington playbook on Twitter.

As for the other busted coverage that is getting a ton of attention — the 56-yard touchdown to Cooper Kupp on the fourth play of the second half — this one is a little tougher to figure out without the All-22.

To me, this looks like quarter-quarter-half coverage, with cornerback Jaylon Johnson taking the quarter at the top of the screen, Eddie Jackson (4) taking the other quarter, and Gipson (38) taking the half to the bottom. Since both safeties are cutoff on the TV copy, I wrote their numbers in to show how the field was split on the backend.

This essentially splits the field into two different coverages, with Cover-4 to the top and Cover-2 to the bottom. While I can’t possibly know Bears defensive coordinator Sean Desai’s version of every coverage, the cornerback to the Cover 2 side will typically take the first man to the flat and, in this case, that’s what Kindle Vildor (22) covers with the tight end running a flat route. When that happens, the safety is responsible for the No. 1 wide receiver (in this case, Robert Woods at the bottom of the screen) if he runs vertical. Finally, the Apex defender (in this case, nickelback Marqui Christian) covers the No. 2 wide receiver (Kupp) man-to-man unless he runs to the flat, which would make that wideout the corner’s responsibility.

Again, it's possible the Bears' assignments were different, but based on how this play started to develop, these responsibilities appear to be accurate.

As you can see, Vildor is covering the tight end in the flat, Gipson is eying Woods (the No. 1 wide receiver) vertical and Christian runs with Kupp (the No. 2 receiver) man-to-man.

And then everything goes wrong. For some reason, Christian just stops, appearing to pass Kupp off to one of the safeties. This was either a mistake or perhaps it’s a wrinkle in Desai’s version of this coverage. The problem is, neither safety takes Kupp and it’s hard to believe two veteran safeties were wrong here.

“It was a brain fart on the secondary, myself included,” Gipson said. “I take ownership on that play. We’ve all got to be on the same page, myself, all of us. But I take ownership on that play.”

Gipson tried to do the right thing and take the hit for the mistake, but I’m not buying it was all on him — although he certainly could have helped.

 

Matthew Stafford gets some deserved credit too. He stared down the No. 1 wide receiver to the opposite side, which held Jackson because he’s likely supposed to “rob” the No. 1 (covered by Johnson) if the No. 2 receiver to his side doesn’t go vertical.

That leaves Gipson, who was put in a bind by Woods because he started to go vertical, but then broke off his route. That’s where Gipson maybe made a minor mistake by stopping his backpedal because Roquan Smith appeared to have Woods covered underneath, but Gipson was also likely not expecting Christian to just stop running with Kupp.

Again, there’s a small element of guessing here that’s exasperated by not being able to see the All-22, but based on how the rest of the secondary (Vildor, Johnson, Gipson and Jackson) all played this, it sure seems like Christian was supposed to stay with Kupp if he went vertical.

But here’s the thing: based on how quickly Christian was trailing Kupp (you can see him pulling Kupp's jersey in that shot above), I think Stafford would have taken the deep shot anyway. It wouldn’t have been wide open, but Kupp still would have had a step or two and it would have resulted in a big play with an accurate throw. Just maybe not a walk-in touchdown.

Either way, the Bears have a lot to fix in their secondary with Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase coming to town Sunday.

Grade Report

(Please note: I absolutely hate doing these grades off of the TV copy, but the current absence of the coaches film on NFL Game Pass has left me no choice this week. The grades will be adjusted as necessary once the coaches film is available. For more on my grading system, click here.)

- Running back David Montgomery (7.00) was the Bears’ highest graded player against the Rams. The second-highest offensive grade went to fellow running back Damien Williams (4.00). That’s a good sign for the running game, but a bad sign for the passing game.

- Jaylon Johnson (5.00) joined Montgomery as the only two players to earn “blue chip” grades in Week 1.

- Only 14 players graded out as starting caliber players or better in Week 1. That doesn’t mean the Bears don’t have more than 14 players worthy of starting in the NFL, but it does mean they only had 14 of 22 starters play at that level against the Rams, which shouldn’t be too surprising considering the 34-14 final score. Only seven graded out as “longterm starters” — and yes, there’s a significant difference.

- Not surprisingly, Christian (-5.00) earned the lowest grade in Week 1, while safety Eddie Jackson’s worrisome 2021 debut landed him a -2.00.